The man in the White House thinks he’s a miracle.
Do you blame God for Donald Trump?
“I am the chosen one,” Trump announced on Wednesday. O.K., he was talking about fighting his trade war with China, not ascending into heaven. It was all a joke, sort of. But we’ve been so far down the megalomania road with this president that it would not be a total surprise to discover he had delusions of divinity.
Maybe at night, when he’s alone with nobody but Fox News to keep him company, Trump envisions a future in which all Americans will appreciate how much he’s suffered for their salvation. He does seem to think of himself as something super-special. And if you listen to him answering questions without the help of a teleprompter, there is a tendency to wonder if he’s speaking in tongues.
Take his interchange with reporters Wednesday. There were, naturally, questions about gun laws — particularly background checks. Trump had wanted to tackle that issue in a big way until he sorta didn’t. Now he’s decided the current system is already “very strong.”
And then he elaborated. Follow along:
“But we are going to be filling in some of the loopholes, as we call them, at the border and will be speaking about it at the border. It would be really nice if the Democrats would indeed fix the loopholes because it would be really nice. But despite that, I want to thank Mexico. They have 26,000 soldiers at our border and they’re really stopping people from coming in. So what happens is with background checks, we’re dealing with Democrats, we’re dealing with Republicans. …”
You will notice that he seems to be mixing up the Mexican border with gun regulation. This may be because he has a godlike ability to see things that no one else can see. In his getting-on-the-helicopter Q&A with the media, he referred twice to the way his great wall has been growing by leaps and bounds. (“The wall is being built — we’re building tremendous numbers of miles of wall right now.”) Mere mortals might wonder where the heck he gets the idea that this is actually happening, but that’s because they lack his miraculous vision.
With that kind of self-image, you could understand why the president feels any criticism reeks of blasphemy. This week he’s been obsessed with the prime minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, who called his idea of buying Greenland “absurd.”
“The prime minister used a terrible word,” our wounded chief executive told reporters. And he vowed there’d be no quick forgiveness for any heads of state who dared send a negative adjective in his direction: “(They) can’t treat the United States of America the way they treated us under President Obama.”
Trump’s obsession with his predecessor is scary. Now he’s at war with auto companies that want to stick close to the 2012 rules on emissions rollbacks. How dare they respect an Obama-era regulation?
And the media thing: Trump sees his story in heroic — if not biblical — proportions, and journalists are always the villains, doing something that needs to be decried. Currently it’s the stories that hospitalized victims of the El Paso mass shooting passed up the opportunity to meet with him when he visited.
“I went to the hospitals — it was totally badly reported,” he complained. The victims and their families, Trump insisted, “love their president and nobody wrote that.” Well, two people who’d been treated and released did come to shake his hand. And some of the stories did focus on the way the president spent part of his mission of mercy bragging to the medical staff about the size of the crowd at his rally. Can’t imagine why.
The nation is still reeling from that tragic weekend of mass shooting. When the cry went up for better gun control, there were lots of stories about Trump’s promise to do something very big when it came to background checks. He is now waffling like a breakfast special. And adopting the National Rifle Association dodge that the only problem is mental health. (“The gun doesn’t pull the trigger, a person does. And we have great mental illness.”)
But about the God complex: Lately Trump has had an obsession with himself as savior of the Holy Land that’s turning downright creepy. “In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel,” he insisted.
Some people wondered if it was a tad offensive to demand that Jews vote Republican or be seen as a traitor to their people.
“It’s only anti-Semitic in your head,” Trump decreed, peering into the minds of his questioners.
Lots of hints here that the president, at least, thinks of himself as someone far beyond mortal men. And then there’s that long, long history of referring to himself in the third person:
“Nobody has been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.”
“Nobody has more respect for women than Donald Trump.”
“There’s never been a president like President Trump.”
“China has total respect for Donald Trump and for Donald Trump’s very, very large brain.”
Take your pick, people. You can accept the idea that he was sent to us by forces from above, or you can pray that he’ll have to go away in 2020. But remember, he’s always watching.
Announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination back in June 2015, Donald Trump stated “We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ “. Tony Schwartz was the ghostwriter of the book Trump calls ‘his proudest achievement’. Schwartz has been vocal about his regrets in working on the piece, but, having worked intimately with Trump, provides a fascinating perspective into the personality and idiosyncrasies of the Republican nominee
3 Distinctive Trump Traits:
- Utter disregard for the truth & lack of conscience
- Guided by immediate self interest
- Inability to admit he was wrong
- Persevering. Aggressive in pursuit of Goals
- Manipulating the Media to get Attention
Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.
I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s —
- gun rights,
- right to work
— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.
Sure, there’s plenty of confusion, diplomatic malpractice and dysfunction in Trumpian foreign policy. But on two critical issues it is deadly functional: The administration is focused like a laser beam on
- irreversibly burning U.S. bridges to Iran and
- administering last rites to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And if you look at the administration’s actual policies, it’s clear they aren’t just meant to overturn President Barack Obama’s actions, but also to create points of no return—so that successor administrations cannot revert to past approaches even if they want to. If the administration succeeds—and it’s well on its way to doing so—it will have fundamentally damaged U.S. national interests for years to come.
The administration has now done a complete about-face. Whatever Trump’s personal inclinations to prove he’s the world’s greatest negotiator on Iran, his hard-line advisers, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, want to get rid of the mullahs who rule the Islamic Republic, not engage them. Pompeo and Bolton are now pulling out all the stops not only to provoke Iran into withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—and maybe into a fight as well—but to block a successor from engineering either a broader geopolitical pivot toward Iran or to engage in diplomacy to resolve outstanding U.S-Iranian differences. The administration’s Monday announcement that it will end all waivers of sanctions on countries still importing Iranian oil fits this pattern of relying on coercion and intimidation rather than diplomacy. As for Israel, whatever the president’s personal views on Israeli-Palestinian peace (and during the campaign they were more balanced than they are today), Jared Kushner and his team now seem hellbent on producing a “made in Israel” peace plan that will be dead before arrival and drive the final nail in the coffin of a peace process that is already on life support.
Last year, Pompeo laid out 12 extreme demands that Tehran would have to meet before the Trump administration would agree to re-engage with Iran. The demands would have required Iran to give up all its rights under the JCPOA and to stop pursuing what Tehran sees as its legitimate interests in the region—for example, helping to stabilize Iraq and supporting the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq. This diktat was swiftly and angrily rejected by the Iranian government.
No amount of economic or diplomatic pressure the U.S. brings to bear on Tehran will force it to knuckle under to these orders. But the administration’s fantastical demands have established a standard that will be used to judge any future nuclear agreement a Democratic, or different kind of Republican, administration might negotiate with Iran, which will almost certainly require both U.S. and Iranian compromises. That means a president who fails to meet these standards will be accused of appeasement, making compromise as well as domestic support for a new agreement far more difficult. The administration is not just killing the Iran nuclear deal; it’s stopping it from coming back to life.
The administration’s decision to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is also willfully and unnecessarily confrontational, and once done, given the hardcore, militant and enduring nature of the IRGC, it will be nearly impossible to undo. A successor administration, if it did try to undo the designation, would find itself vulnerable to the charges of enabling state-sponsored terrorism. The move will strengthen hard-liners in Iran who oppose accommodation with the U.S. and weaken those elements within the country which favor improved relations with America, who will now have no choice other than to remain silent or close ranks behind the IRGC, further diminishing opportunities for future engagement and diplomacy with Iran. Empowered hard-liners will crack down even more harshly on Iranians who want less political oppression, greater respect for human rights, and more political and civil liberties. All these results were no doubt intended by Pompeo and Bolton, and work together with the economic warfare the administration is waging against Iran, which is aimed at provoking internal unrest inside the country that could ultimately lead to a toppling of clerical rule. The imposition of the total embargo on Iranian oil exports, if successful, will inflict even more economic misery on the Iranian people, hardening the perception that the U.S. government is an enemy not only of the ruling regime but also of the Iranian people—an attitude that will make it harder to ratchet down hostility toward America in the future.
In what would deliver the final coup de grace to any normalization of future U.S.-Iranian relations, Pompeo and Bolton are doing everything they can to goad Iran into a military conflict with the U.S.There is a growing risk that U.S. forces and Iranian IRGC units and Iranian-backed militias could stumble their away into an unintended conflict, especially in Iraq or Syria but also in Yemen, where the administration’s unstinting support for the Saudi Arabia’s inhumane and ineffectual military campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis risks further provoking Houthi missile attacks on the Kingdom, creating a pretext for the Trump administration to come to the Kingdom’s defense.
There are a number of steps the U.S. could take to mitigate the risks of an unintended conflict with Iran. But the administration has failed to create diplomatic or operational arrangements for communications and crisis management with Iran, suggesting that its goal is not to prevent such a conflict but to deliberately provoke one. And predictably, the IRGC designation has met with a hostile Iranian response: The Iranian Majlis (parliament) has declared every American soldier in the Middle East a terrorist. Thousands of U.S. military personnel are now wearing targets on their backs. Because they operate in close proximity to IRCG units and Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, the odds have increased dramatically that there will be some kind of confrontation with a high risk of escalation. In other words, U.S. actions have helped set the stage for a U.S.-Iranian conflict that could rule out reconciliation for many more years.
A less confrontational relationship with Iran isn’t this administration’s only casualty. It is also doing all it can to kill and bury the long-standing policy of seeking a two-state solution to achieve a conflict-ending settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Over the past year, the administration has waged a relentless campaign of economic and political pressure against the Palestinians—
- closing the PLO office in Washington,
- withdrawing U.S. assistance from the U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees and
- cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority.
While the details of the Kushner plan have been shrouded in secrecy for over a year, the way his team has operated and leaks to the media suggest a plan that gives priority to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s politics and needs—one that is reportedly heavy on economic issues and light on the core issues of
- refugees and
- Palestinian statehood.
Even if the words “two-state solution” were uttered, the administration’s view of the Palestinian state is clearly a far cry from the size and contiguity that any Palestinian leader could accept as part of a deal. In this way, the Trump administration’s policies don’t just roll back the very idea of a meaningful two-state solution and push the Palestinians further away from engaging seriously in negotiations leading to a settlement. They also, in aligning so closely with Netanyahu’s vision, make a deal much less likely in future.
For example, the administration’s gratuitous decision—untethered from any U.S. national interest—to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and open an embassy there
- inflicted serious damage on U.S. credibility as a mediator,
- marginalized the Palestinian Authority as a key U.S. interlocutor, and
- subordinated U.S. policy toward the Palestinians to U.S. policy toward Israel.
The administration’s treatment of Jerusalem has drawn a clear hierarchy: Israel’s needs are indisputable and sacred, Palestinian needs are negotiable and worldly. The prospects for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem are now more remote than ever: With continuing Israeli efforts to formalize their control over all of Jerusalem and the presence of more than 300,000 Israelis living there, it’s hard to imagine there will be either political or territorial space for the establishment of a real Palestinian capital.
Once annexed, there will be no possibility of any solution that involves separating Israelis and Palestinians, thereby condemning them both to live in a one-state reality that is a prescription for unending conflict and violence. In the cruelest of ironies, the administration’s plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could extinguish any hope of a diplomatic solution to separate Israelis and Palestinians, and instead guarantee perpetual conflict.
So if the chances of the plan’s success are slim to none, especially in light of the recent Israeli election and the emergence of a very right-wing government, why launch it? The answer is obvious: We believe the administration has defined success in other ways. With zero chance of getting an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, the administration’s real end game is to fundamentally alter U.S. policy toward the conflict and to do everything possible to raise the odds that no successor can reverse the new ground rules. And there may be no time better than now. Listen to U.S. Ambassador David Friedman—a key influencer of the administration’s policy—at last month’s AIPAC conference: “Can we leave this to an administration that may not understand the need for Israel to maintain overriding security control of Judea and Samaria and a permanent defense position in the Jordan Valley?” he asked. “Can we run the risk that one day the government of Israel will lament, ‘Why didn’t we make more progress when U.S. foreign policy was in the hands of President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Bolton, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and even David Friedman?’ How can we do that?”
The goal isn’t just to drive a stake through the peace process but to ensure that America’s traditional conception of a two-state solution won’t rise from the dead.
Why couldn’t a new administration truly committed to engaging Iran and pushing forward on a two-state solution simply return to traditional policies? We cannot rule this out; but this possibility faces very long odds, particularly if the Trump administration is in charge until 2024.
Even under normal circumstances with a committed and highly skilled administration, Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are excruciatingly difficult issues even to manage, let alone resolve. Success depends on leaders America can’t control who have conflicting interests and their own domestic constraints and, in the case of Iran, on bitterly suspicious adversaries; the issues are politically radioactive for all parties and perceived to be existential, too. And the longer these conflicts persist the more entrenched attitudes become and options for progress contract. Indeed, time is an enemy not an ally; and even under the best of circumstances, any number of deal breakers are always present. In its own inimitable way, the administration is well on its way to hanging “closed for the season” signs on both improving relations with Iran and on a two-state solution and, sadly, irreversibly damaging American credibility and national interests in the process.